Monday, May 10, 2010

Playin' around


Yeast and I have had somewhat of a roller coaster relationship throughout the years. As a rebellious cook/teenager, I avoided any recipe that even mentioned the dreaded Y word. Same goes for gelatin.
Needless to say my first endeavour into this (for me) uncharted territory was a disaster of epic proportions. What can I say? I was 15, it was Saturday, and I felt adventurous. Enter an old recipe for cheese danish with raisins. I had fresh yeast on hand, lots of it. So I though, why not?
Thick headed that I am, I was adamant about not needing any help whatsoever. Baaad idea. On the first try the yeast wouldn't rise. No problem, had lots more where it came from. Second try, just as bad. I had the windows open, there was a major drought in the house. But the recipe didn't mention anything about the precarious working relationship of yeast and drought. Thus, not my fault! Finally, on the third try, yeast + sugar + warm water rose beautifully. I was in business! Or so I thought. I put all the ingredients in my large ceramic bowl, mixed it all together, worked the lovely vanilla scented dough into a shiny, springy little ball of beauty. I felt really proud. I covered the dough and let it rise while practicing my "see, I told you I could do this by myself" speech. And then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. But even after two hours the dough wouldn't rise. After three hours and much consideration I concluded that it has risen. A little. A tiny bit. And it still smelled wonderful. Plus I already made the filling. The creamiest cottage cheese from my grandmother' own cremerie, kirsh soaked plump raisins and vanilla sugar. So I rolled out the dough, cut it in squares, filled it with big spoonfuls of cheese and formed the adorable tiny purses. They were a marvel to look at. At this point I was convinced that this achievement was going to be the pinnacle of my blossoming culinary career. To backtrack, I had had some considerable cooking success before that day. My chocolate sour cream ice cream and my potato salads were famous. I mean, really. With my entire family, all three of them.
Next I placed my baking sheet of danishes in the oven and anxiously waited for the final result. I had my serving trays all prepared with doilies and all. The whole house smelled wonderful.
After 30 minutes, the recommended baking time, I went to check on my work. I wish I hadn't. The dough had not risen at all and all the cheese filling was seeping out of the little pockets, forming charred crusty little pools on both the baking sheet and the oven floor.
It took me five years to even look at a recipe with yeast again.
Since that time many a yeasty recipes have found their way to my kitchen, with various degrees of success. I got bolder and no yeasty recipe is ever going to scare me again! But seriously, no two recipes ever come out exactly the same. Is it just me? Am I doing something wrong?
I'm on a quest to make the perfect brioche. Fluffy, light, not to buttery or crumbly or dry and definitely not one that requires 7 eggs for 2 cups of flour!
I know a lot depends on the quality of your flour, your eggs and even the room temperature. I've done my research and the consensus seems to be that fresh yeast is superior to that of the dried kind. But these days fresh yeast is not widely available.
And it's a little scary, too. And then there's the instant kind, which I never used nor do I have any desire to use in the future.
If you get the best results by letting your dough rise slowly, what exactly is the point of instant yeast? What's the hurry?


This past weekend I was craving the satisfaction that comes from working with soft yeasty dough with your bear hands. So I made these walnut buns, using Nigella Lawson's Norwegian Cinnamon buns recipe for the dough. I halved the recipe, since
using 4 cups of flour for two people seemed a tad to much. For the filling I used 1 stick of butter mixed with 1 cup of ground walnuts and some vanilla sugar. Should you wish to give this walnut version a try, you could also use this recipe (for the dough), one of my favourites and on regular rotation in our kitchen. The walnut cream knocks it out of the ball park, so you might want to try it. You can bake them in muffin tins, or just spread the filling on the dough, roll up, cut it up in 1 1/2" coins and bake them as you would cookies, placing them 2 inches apart on your cookie sheet. I baked the second half in these cute little tins I bought in Tokyo, along with a bunch of other tins and moulds that I have yet to figure out how to use.
Happy baking! As for me I'm right back to the drawing board. I still have a lot to learn. Another day, another stubborn recipe: caramel roll ups with fennel seeds. And yeast, of course. I'll keep you posted. Later,(in my life) I might even consider making homemade bread. Real bread. With crunchy, thick crust. Just like the ones they make in Paris. Whit natural starter or old dough. Check out the brilliance here.
In the meantime any yeast related tips, suggestions are more then welcome.


Junglefrog said...

O dear... that sounds like a traumatic experience you had there with yeast! Good for a laugh though... :) I have never really used fresh yeast to be honest but I've had very good results with dry yeast which is readily available here. But then I didn't have your scary experiences when I was younger... :)) Guess I have been lucky (although I had PLENTY of failures in almost all other areas!)

Chanel11 said...

I know how you feel, I only just faced my fear of yeast and made a cheat's brioche - bread isn't easy, I got lucky that my first attempt was decent. Even with your failed attempts of the past your walnut buns look as professional as can be and super yummy. Keep us posted on your yeast-filled endeavours...(hope that doesn't sound gross)

Ash said...

I need to make these... like soon!

I tried to avoid things all dough until I feel really ambitious then I'd be happy to take the yeast out!